SEA Scholar of the Month, October 2019: Lucas Hardy
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I became interested in early American studies when I enrolled in an elective course on Calvinist inheritances in American literature with Ronald Bosco during the second year of my graduate program at the University at Albany. I was assigned Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness and was quickly fascinated by the intellectual complexities of Puritan thought. Professor Bosco’s rich knowledge of the field also helped to pique my interest. Around this time, I started working with Branka Arsić, who was writing about perception and corporeality in Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson. These circumstances ultimately led me into a dissertation investigating the ways in which the body—and especially the pained body—is represented in Puritan writing.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I find myself returning time and again to Jonathan Edwards. I appreciate the challenge in tracing the development of his ideas across his many works, but I’m drawn also to his willingness both to let ideas go unfinished and to engage in thinking that sometimes appears contradictory. One of the striking features of Edwards’s work, at least for me, is that despite its difficulty and its insistence on an almost impossible type of piety, the aim of human perception, in the end, is the discovery of beauty.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently completing a monograph titled Theologies of Pain: The Human Body and Spiritual Conversion in American Puritanism, which examines how lived experiences of pain shaped ideologies of colonial settlement in early New England. Contrary to the common belief in the West that pain separates the sufferer from society, I argue that Puritans, by viewing pain as a providential force, turned suffering into a qualifying condition for civic belonging. The central place of pain in Puritan life gave rise to new political formations, new religious practices, and unique rhetorical modes. I work to trace the literary consequences of these precarious—and often dubious—sites of pain.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I’ve just begun Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind. I’ve had a casual interest in Arendt for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to read her in earnest. I find the scope and rigor of her thought inspiring, and her ways of considering the relationship between the self and society useful both for studying early American life and for contemplating our current political climate in the United States.
I’ve also just purchased Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new novel, The Water Dancer. I’ve assigned Coates’s work in several classes recently, and though I haven’t begun reading yet, I’m certain this book will be an important addition to my syllabi.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Ivy Schweitzer is a scholar I’ve admired since graduate school. Her Work of Self-Representation was among the first books I read after being converted, as it were, to early American studies. It was quite influential in shaping the way I understand personal modes of expression in early New England. I was fortunate several years ago to contribute to a special Anne Bradstreet edition of Women’s Studies Professor Schweitzer was co-editing. As a young scholar, I was delighted to receive her thoughtful feedback on my work.
Lucas Hardy is Associate Professor of English at Youngstown State University.